On a recent fall day, seven young South Korean ladies stood silently among a crush of commuters in a subway vehicle. They wore seasonal coats and windbreakers like the rest of the passengers, but one thing set them apart: old-fashioned hair curlers that were securely tucked into their bangs.
Jung Yoon-won, a 23-year-old college student in Seoul who uses curlers on a regular basis, said she wore them outside her house to keep the ideal curl in her bangs before attending an event or meeting. She stated that her mother had urged her to stop because she was concerned that others might find it improper.
That self-reliance is shared by many younger people who do not feel bound by the traditions that were formerly tightly enforced in South Korean culture. Young people nowadays believe they are less bothered with what other people think and prefer to live a more carefree life.
“There’s this idea that women today should constantly have presentable hair,” she says. She scoffed at the notion of upholding ancient beauty standards or clinging to the days when walking outdoors in Seoul without flawless hair and cosmetics was like to leaving the house without clothing.
Lee Jeong-jin, 51, has a 21-year-old daughter who, much to her mother’s chagrin, regularly wears curlers outside the house. Ms. Lee, who lives near Seoul, believes it is common for young people to adopt a “so what” mentality.
She understands. When she was in her teens, she added, using hair spray to make towering, voluminous hair curlers was the style in South Korea. “I’m sure the elder generation thought we were the odd ones back then,” she explained.
However, Kim Ji-in, 54, views the hair curlers as part of a greater change among young women who believe they should be entitled to behave as they choose in public, without having to conform to beauty and gender stereotypes.
“I saw one woman in her twenties sitting on the subway floor with her cosmetics spread out in front of her,” she claimed. It was unimaginable for a woman to go outdoors with rollers in her hair at the time, she noted.
Resistance to South Korea’s often-rigid beauty standards and gender-constrictive ideas is not new. After the #MeToo movement swept the country a few years ago, some women replied with “Escape the Corset,” a trend in which they ditched their makeup and wore bowl cuts to protest repressive ideals about physical desirability.
Kim Dong-wan, a 25-year-old researcher in Seoul, said he was perplexed when he saw ladies wearing hair curlers in public for the first time approximately six years ago. He now claims to be “indifferent,” and that women nowadays are less likely to feel compelled to hide such things while yet seeking greater respect. “Times have changed drastically,” he observed.
While older South Koreans may object to the usage of hair curlers in public, Yoon Da-young, a 22-year-old student in Seoul, believes it is not their place to comprehend youth culture or why teens and women in their twenties would proudly stroll outdoors with curlers in their hair. “The tendency now is to wear them out,” she explained.